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A Trainee’s Guide: How to Conference

Our Heritage Trainee Lois, recently wrote a blog over on Museum Futures documenting her experiences attending conferences

An honest guide to surviving a conference in the museum world.

Being new to the sector, a professional conference was never something I had experienced before this year. Now that I have attended 3 conferences, I have a better understanding of what to expect and how they work. I thought I would pass on some knowledge and tips to anyone who, like myself, is new to the museum conference world.

  1. You won’t understand everything.

A favourite costume of mine from the Invisible Men exhibition at the University of Westminster

Or in my case, you won’t understand a lot. A lot of the time there are museum professionals up at the front, chatting away about their specialist field and therefore they know A LOT – and sometimes they presume you know a lot also. My advice for this would be taking notes of the things you’re not sure about, google them later or ask a work colleague. They may not understand either but it’s a great way to expand your knowledge and get to know the sector a whole lot better.

  1. it’s a great place to meet people.

Before my conference experiences I never really fully knew the meaning of the word “networking”. Conferences are all about learning new things but also meeting new people- networking. It may seem pretty daunting to go and chat with a bunch of strangers, especially if you’ve just travelled several hours on a stuffy train to reach your conference, however, be brave and go and engage with someone new. It’s great to hear other people’s experiences and it may even help you build bridges for your career. I’ve found many people in the museum world are very friendly but if you’re still unsure start your conversation by commenting about the venue or even something as simple as the weather, whatever you’ve got to do to get that conversation started.

Having fun at conferences is most important.

  1. Have a look around.

Chances are your conference has been held in a fantastic museum or building. My advice to you – if they will allow you- is to make the most of your visit and experience the building you are in. Often, as a museum professional, you spend so much time in an office or a meeting, you never get the chance to enjoy the things we like so much – museums! I’ve never been to a museum, yet, where I haven’t found something I found interesting or fun. Get out there and explore!


Now we are all guilty of this. You’re trying your best to concentrate but your head just keeps dropping and your eyelids have never been so heavy… Conferences can be long days, especially long if you are sat very still and listening for the majority. This probably has something to do with the fact that the average attention span of an adult is between 10 and 20 minutes. So some practical advice for staying bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at your next conference. If you can, stand up. It’s much harder to sleep while standing up and getting the blood moving may just give you that much needed extra energy.

Caffeine. Caffeine can be your new best friend at a conference, giving you that extra little kick to keep ongoing. Just don’t overdo it, find the balance of enough to stay awake but not so much that you’re bouncing off your chair.

A peek into my conference note-taking.


Finally, engage as much as you can. There is often a time in conferences for questions, try to think some up, ask them if you are brave enough. Or if you can’t engage via questions you can via body language. Nodding, making eye contact and non-verbal responses to what you are hearing are helpful. If all else fails just keeping making those notes. Focus on keywords and phrases, bring your multicoloured pen and make those notes exciting!

  1. Take extra opportunities.

You will sometimes have the opportunity to participate in extra sessions or workshops. My advice would be to give at least one a go. Try to get the most out of your day by attending one of these. You will hopefully expand your knowledge or it will make you think about something in a slightly different way than you did before. I recently attended a well-being workshop at a conference and we spent just a few minutes addressing issues, looking at what we can do to help ourselves and we were given a few physical activities to do to help boost our well-being. Although the session was only short, I came out feeling energized and ready for the next part of the conference, which was beneficial.


So there you have it, a few tips to surviving a museum conference. I hope you find it useful and enjoy your next museum conference knowing you are fully equipped for the day ahead. If this has also inspired you to attend a conference check out some links below to see when their next conference is.




One of the beautiful views I experienced when at a conference at the British Library

Lois Garrod-Smith

Heritage Trainee, September 2019


Museum Futures is The British Museum’s latest Skills for the Future training programme. It has been generously supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.


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